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Calligraphy As Graphically Autonomous Form: A corpus study of Persian calligraphic letterforms with a multimodal approach

Abstract

Relying on the theory of multimodal social semiotics and the findings of a corpus study of Persian calligraphy (Nastaliq), this paper analyzes calligraphic letter shapes for their degree of independence toward language to make autonomous sense as graphic forms, regardless of conventional meanings within language.

Based on the theory of "articulatory graphetics" (Johannessen, 2010), the paper discusses how characteristics of calligraphic letterforms in Nastaliq can be analogous to the universal set of graphic features. It eventually demonstrates that different practices in Nastaliq calligraphy lead to graphic conventions and can be considered 'acts of graphic articulation.' Accordingly, based on the three factors of 'acting body,' 'tools,' and 'substance,' the paper argues that Nastaliq calligraphy can be seen as an 'articulation event.'

The article also presents a multimodal tentative approach to corpus-based studies of calligraphic letter forms by applying a descriptive schema with two formal systems, SHAPE and ENSHAPENING, as suggested by Johannessen (2010, 2012). This approach is consistent with the fractal-derived principle of self-similarity and adequately accounts for graphic forms in the abstract letter shapes of Nastaliq calligraphy.

Based on the findings of the corpus ‒ 300 images of Persian calligraphy, including individual letters with their extensive forms, second letter forms in Farsi (and obviously in Nastaliq calligraphy), and compound forms ‒ the paper demonstrates that the traditional theory of 'circle and plane' in Nastaliq is described with the synchronic descriptive schema of SHAPE and ENSHAPENING; it manifests itself in the calligraphic letterforms and demonstrates its authenticity.

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